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What attending three funerals in one day reminds us about living fully.

As a child, I used to wonder why my parents enjoyed attending funerals. Why else would they get dressed up, leave family parties and sporting events, and go to them? Asking Dad why he went to so many, he shared because if he didn’t go to others’ funerals, he was concerned they may not go to his.

In spite of Dad’s joke, as I’ve aged, it’s become clear to me my parents weren’t going to funerals for themselves. No, they knew that showing up for people during their time of grief matters. And the longer we live, the more opportunities to show up for others we have.

But sometimes attending a funeral is not just about being there for another family. Sometimes it’s also about recognizing the importance to urgently live now. Attending three funerals a couple Saturdays ago reminded me of this truth.

Beth and I left the house early that day to be with a dear friend who had lost his sister. Decisions throughout her life had pushed her family away and created constant tension on the rare occasions they were obligated to be together.

My friend shared at the funeral, though, that the months of his sister slowly dying and the weeks of hospice at the end gave them an incredible opportunity to make amends. They acknowledged mistakes and apologized for missteps. By the time she passed away, they had reconciled. She passed away, ultimately, without regrets.

Beth and I hugged our friend goodbye and raced to the second funeral of the day.

This was for a friend of mine, a gentleman I’d come to know, respect, and love at church. He was always smiling, always serving, always making others feel valued, seen and loved. His death will leave a gaping hole in our church community. It will also be something that his wife, three young kids, and entire family will struggle with for the rest of their lives. None of us will ever understand how one of the most vibrant people we knew could take his own life.

The pastor presiding over the funeral delivered one of the boldest, most emotional, and most healing sermons I have ever heard. Rather than offer platitudes and feel-good stories, he was honest with the indescribable pain and sadness. As he spoke, he kept his attention not on the overwhelmingly crowded church, but on those most impacted, the family seated in the first row.

Using the lyrics from the Hamilton song It’s Quiet Uptown, he challenged us to be honest with what had happened and the agony we felt. To name it for what it is and not mask it. He encouraged us to be patient in this time of profound grief and sadness. To not race forward and expect immediate healing because this will take time.

And yet, he reminded us that in the midst of unimaginable sadness, to be faithful and hopeful enough to seek evidence of goodness and grace. Even in the period of utter darkness, there will be, he assured us, whispers of hope and life. Seek those moments and grasp onto them when they appear. One day, he reminded us, we will laugh again, we will smile again, we will feel love again, we will see our friend again. And he ended with a hopeful question: Can you imagine?

Finally, Beth and I left that church service to attend the funeral for our third friend. Rather than a shocking loss, though, this time we were able to celebrate 96 years of a man who possessed an indomitable passion for life.

This gentleman was my hand surgeon back in the 1980s. Beth and I walked into a room where we knew no one. A room where his children, in-laws, grandchildren, friends, fellow physicians and former patients had gathered to share the joy that was this man. And immediately, we were engulfed in the love that personified this man’s life.

The most emotional story I heard that day was from a former daughter-in-law. Years earlier, her divorce was finalized. In a world that is quick to pick sides, her former father-in-law instead chose the side of love. He wanted her to know that although she was no longer married to his son, she would always remain part of his family. So, every Sunday, he would call to check in on her and let her know he loved her, too.

My friends, yesterday we celebrated Easter. In the ultimate revelation of love, we rejoiced in the stunning victory over death. And it reminded me of all I had learned by attending those three funerals a couple of weeks ago.

At the first funeral, I was reminded to live in such a way that I can die with no regrets. At the second, to endure the unfathomable heartache of loss with honesty, with patience, and with a heart opened to blessings in the midst of the storm. And at the third, that even in the midst of divisive times or at the end a long, successful life, that phone calls reminding others of their value matter to them. And speak volumes about the individuals choosing love.

So, as the stone that once covered the tomb remains rolled away, I wish you a wonderful start to your day. Remember that your life matters. There will be struggles, but the foundation is firm. And your best is yet to come.

Today is your day. Live Inspired.

12 replies on “What Is Our Legacy?”

John, Thank you for your continuing inspiration and way in which you see the world. It is a great compass to a good life!

Really great message and reminder. What a blessing to all of us that you shared your experience and learnings. Thank you and God bless you and your family.

John, normally we give thanks when good things happen. In my practice of gratitude, I have also learned that I find a higher level of gratitude when I can find something to be thankful for even when something bad has happened. Your personal story is an amazing example of this as are these wonderful stories today. You have again made me feel grateful. Thank you so much for sharing your life and your stories with us!

Joy and happiness can not truley be internalized and felt without the feeling of loss, grief and sadness that provides us with an internal meter. When the Holy Sprit calibrates our meters we are equipped with balance and love.

Whew! That’s all I can say.

You and I met years ago, John, when I sat in on your plenary session for the Florida Fire Chiefs Safety Conference in southeast Florida. My breakout session on suicide prevention within the fire service was to follow. You signed my copy of On Fire, and we chatted a bit about my mission and the legacy I wish to leave behind. I cannot do anything about my brother’s death by suicide (he was a career firefighter with young children at the time of his death), but I can do so much to prevent another suicide. That is how I make the stories of my brother’s life outweigh any stories of his death; that is what I want for my legacy.

And a line from the song “It’s Quiet Uptown” is on our fridge in clear view to remind my husband and. that there is a grace too powerful to name and moments that words can’t reach.

Thank you for sharing your gift to find words that reach so many.

How difficult and rewarding that day for you and your wife! When you can attend funerals and walk away learning something is a gift and I thank you for sharing!

Thank you so much for sharing all of this John. What a powerful day for you and Beth. It seems you grow wiser every day. So grateful that you share your wisdom with the world!

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